As you may know, I only breed my ewes every other year. And due to my lung thing and overall poor health because of it, I skipped last year too. So it’s been three years since I had lambs. I could hardly wait. (But then again, more time would have been nice, given the month I just had!)
Sir Terry, the handsome Shetland ram, came to visit in late November, leaping into the back of my Honda like a golden retriever when I went to pick him up. The girls acted like brainless ninnies for the first half day – especially all those virgins, who’d never seen a ram before (5 of the 8 ewes I was breeding were maidens at 2 ½ years old), but they eventually settled down, and Terry became part of the flock for five months. (And when it came time to leave he did NOT jump into the back of my Honda – it was a bit of a wrestle to get him away from his girls and into the car.) I saw some action in those first few days, and charted my due dates accordingly. But it was a full week after that (and with a ewe I never saw consorting with the ram!) before I saw my first lamb. But true to form, Cinnamon was first to lamb again this year – a beautiful moorit ewe lamb, the image of her mother – and Minnie was last again, with twins that were born nearly simultaneously. And a rollicking ride in between. I ended up with 12 lambs again this year (the same as 2014 when I bred only five ewes, compared to this year’s eight ewes). There were four singletons and four sets of twins, with a total of five ram lambs and seven ewe lambs – a nice ratio. I got four white lambs, three moorits (brown), and five black (some with white) – a couple of these blacks will end up being gray or another light color.
Meg (Nutmeg), Cinnamon’s daughter, produced a fine white ram lamb a couple of days after her mother, the only one born in the rough (in the pasture, vs. in the pen) and he’s the image of his sire – gorgeous wool and a perfect little fluke tail, just what I am breeding for.
A few days after that, I came home from work one rainy afternoon to find two weak lambs in the general pen, and a very stressed out C-Kerry. I got her into a separate jug (term for the small, individual pen for mothers with new lambs) and realized I had a problem. The lambs were very weak – who knew what happened in the time from birth until I found them (guestimating 4-6 hours). It had been raining, and although they were mostly dry from mama cleaning them up it was still chilly, and they may have been stepped on or worse (the other sheep can be quite aggressive with butting/ramming). I got a heat lamp on them and quickly realized they needed to be fed – they were too weak to nurse! C-Kerry was NOT happy about me grabbing her to milk out some colostrum, but I got about 2 ounces down each of them (they were too weak to suckle a bottle so I tube fed them). The boy seemed a little stronger than the girl, but both were pathetic little things, with floppy ears and weak baas. The next day I tried milking C-Kerry some more – I would get about a half ounce each time, before she got too fractious. She was wonderful with the lambs once she settled down, and very attentive and watchful, but was very clear that she didn’t like to be milked by a human. But they were so weak they couldn’t nurse much (at all?) on their own. So I made up some milk replacer and kept tube feeding them. Then I contacted my Shetland shepherds on my chat list for advice and got good instructions on what to do.
On day 3 I called the vet and got them in to see her the next day. Diagnosis? They were premies! It confirmed a suspicion I’d been having, but the vet estimated they were 7-10 days premature, and this was probably the main reason behind the weakness I was seeing. The vet gave some vitamin D and selenium injections, and the wee ewe got some antibiotic for the pneumonia she seemed to be flirting with, and off we went, back to mama at home. The boy responded to the injections almost immediately. His floppy ears started to stick out like they are supposed to, and he definitely had more energy, with a few little lamb bounces that very evening.
The girl took a little longer, but by the weekend (they were born on a Monday), they were both going in the right direction. I stopped feeding the boy about then, but still gave the girl a few feedings into the next week. C-Kerry has been a stellar mother to them – holding very still and even moving her leg out of the way when they got up to nurse. They were smaller than the other lambs the same age, and the girl was very hocky – her rear legs meet at the hocks – but they slowly seem to be straightening as she gains strength and grows. She lost part of her baby coat, and looked quite moth eaten for a while. I am chalking this up to the antibiotic injection she received as well as the overall stress she went through. But with Daisy’s recent diagnosis of ringworm, I watched the her closely (skin is clear, with new wool growing underneath the baby coat coming out).
But what about the 5 other ewes and their lambing, you ask?
The day after C-Kerry had her premies (so 3 ewes lambed, with 4 babies so far), Duna, my least favorite ewe (I’ve kept her for sentimental reasons (loved her mother)) decided to have a nice little white ewe. I was home to see the birth, and moved Duna and the baby into a jug a short time after the lamb was on her feet. Duna was doing everything just as she should, but a little confused on why the lamb kept trying to go “back there.”
It was a nice-ish afternoon (we’ve had SUCH rain this year) and I was dinking around outside the pen (picking up sticks for the yard waste bin) when I looked over to see Duna pushing again. They don’t push like that for afterbirth, but it had been nearly 4 hours since she had her ewe lamb. Then the “afterbirth” raised up and shook its head. OMG! I went into the pen with her – after more than 3 ½ hours, she was already over the moon over the ewe lamb she’d had, but what was this? She licked at him tentatively, but wasn’t hugely interested and went back to her ewe. I wiped down the little guy with a towel – he seemed strong and vital, even with all that time between the births (normally twins come within 30 minutes of each other).
Duna was a little more interested after I cleaned him up some, and licked at him as she should. But still, she wasn’t that attracted to him compared to her girl. Then she decided he didn’t get to nurse. Not a full-on rejection, but darn close. I watched into the evening and realized I had to intervene. I haltered her and held her still to let him nurse – he latched on pretty well, but she was NOT happy. So I tube fed him as well, to be sure he was getting something. The next morning I wrestled her down before going to work so he could get some food. But I ended up tube feeding him more than he got from her. That evening, while on the phone with a fellow shepherd (Sir Terry’s owner, in fact), we brainstormed. I thought about using an essential oil on him, but my friend said to use it on the ewe lamb instead. It was aniseed oil, and sure enough, with the ewe lamb smelling funny, Duna let the little guy – a moorit – latch on and tank up. I could see his little sides bulging by the time he was done. Whew! Crisis averted. Or so I thought. By the weekend it was obvious she wasn’t going to let him nurse. He was resourceful, and tried some of the other ewes as he could, but again, intervention was needed. So he – now called Rudy, or little fella – is my first bottle lamb. I’ve been able to leave him with the flock, which is better for him, but was feeding him at least four times a day, more often as I could (with my work schedule, it’s hard). He comes running when he sees me, and drinks his bottle like a champ (although I am now weaning him – he’s six weeks old already). He’s smaller than some of the other lambs, but he’s growing, and is spunky and strong. He’s going to be a tough one to let go…
To be continued…